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Know the West

Kayakers seek water rights



The city of Golden is known as the home of both the Colorado School of Mines and Coors beer. But that image is changing. The city’s kayak course on Clear Creek has put Golden on the map of recreational boaters from around the country.

There’s one small problem with the course: Golden has no guaranteed right to the water that keeps the rapids churning. The town’s request for a water right, the third and largest such request in Colorado history, has turned into a statewide debate about how much water should be kept in streams for recreational uses.

Colorado’s Water Conservation Board, a 15-member group appointed by the governor to oversee the state’s water resources, is leading the opposition to Golden’s plans. Under Colorado law, anyone can request a water right as long as they alter the flow of a waterway and the water is put to beneficial use. A kayak course qualifies under those guidelines, but Dan McAuliff, deputy director of the board, says approval of Golden’s request would set a risky precedent.

"The board was concerned about it because under this kind of diversion, there’s just a lot more potential for mischief," says McAuliff. "What if someone were just to drop a boulder in the stream and say, ‘I’ve diverted water, and it makes kayaking better.’ Is that person entitled to a water right?"

The board is so concerned with Golden’s brand of water use that it’s pushing the state Legislature to make recreational water rights more difficult to obtain. Glen Porzak, Golden’s water attorney, says that the board favors traditional water users, such as industry and agriculture, over uses that keep water in the river.

Says Porzak, "If Golden was using it for a power plant, they wouldn’t be opposing us."